Lilies, Anxiety, Provision, and Jesus, our Treasure- Luke 12:22-34, Genesis 3:19, 1 Peter 5:6-8

maslow's hierarchy

And he (Jesus) said to his disciples, “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat, nor about your body, what you will put on.  For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds! And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? If then you are not able to do as small a thing as that, why are you anxious about the rest? Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass, which is alive in the field today, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you, O you of little faith!  And do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, nor be worried. For all the nations of the world seek after these things, and your Father knows that you need them.  Instead, seek his kingdom, and these things will be added to you.”

 “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.  Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” –Luke 12:22-34 (ESV)

Worry is not just a plague of the modern age. It is part of the human condition that has been with us since the Fall, when God declared to Adam, By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”- Genesis 3:19 (ESV)

There is even a theory of a hierarchy of human needs, categorized from the most basic elements of physical survival to the elusive (and practically impossible) goal of “self actualization,” defined by psychologist Abraham Maslow back in the 1940s. While this hierarchy is useful for understanding human behavior, and to a degree helpful for us to use as a guideline to serve our neighbors in need, the reality is that God is our provider. All of the things we need for our physical, mental and spiritual well-being and health are given to us by the hand of God. We are dependent on Him for all things, as we are taught in the explanation of the First Article of the Creed in Luther’s Small Catechism:

I believe that God has made me and all creatures; that He has given me my body and soul, eyes, ears, and all my limbs, my reason, and all my senses, and still preserves them; in addition thereto, clothing and shoes, meat and drink, house and homestead, wife and children, fields, cattle, and all my goods; that He provides me richly and daily with all that I need to support this body and life, protects me from all danger, and guards me and preserves me from all evil; and all this out of pure, fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in me; for all which I owe it to Him to thank, praise, serve, and obey Him. This is most certainly true.- Martin Luther

It’s easy to tell ourselves, “don’t worry.” The apostle Peter tells us to “cast our anxieties on Jesus because He cares for us.” (1 Peter 5:6-8) We learn about God’s provision in the Creed and in the Catechism, yet we still worry. It might sound easy to cast our cares on Jesus, but in practice, it is far more of a struggle to put our worry and struggle to provide for ourselves and our loved ones aside and to trust God for His provision.  We should know better…but we don’t.  Doubt and fear have their ways of creeping into our thoughts, especially when we face adversity, or when we wonder where our next meal is coming from, or how we are going to pay our bills.

It’s easy to trust in ourselves and in our stuff- until the stuff runs out, or we are unable to provide for ourselves. The bottom line is that everything on this earth is finite.  Money, resources and physical strength are all limited.  Ultimately there will come a day for everyone when no matter what resources are available, this life will be over.  Solomon was said to be the most wealthy man who ever lived, but where is Solomon and his gold and silver and palaces now?  He didn’t get to take any of it with him.  When our lives on this earth end, where will our treasure be?

The kingdom of God is all around us. It’s not in its fullness here on earth, but we see and experience God’s kingdom in His creation, in the people around us, and in the work that we are called to do for each other.

Jesus teaches us to put our trust in Him. He will provide what we need- in the goodness of the harvest, through our vocations, and in serving each other.  The earth in its current form is not a permanent place for us, as we learn in the beloved 23rd Psalm- “Even though I walk in the valley of the shadow, I fear no evil. Your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” (Psalm 23:4)

We are in the valley of shadow during a good portion of our journey here on earth. Yet Jesus is with us, He comforts us, no matter what that valley of shadow brings. He brings us through whatever sorrow or trial we must endure-along with us.  He is not just observing our trials from afar, but He suffers with us, weeps with us, and celebrates with us.  In Him we have the strength to endure and to serve others along the way. As we live in and love His kingdom, we find that in Jesus, we have more than enough for our needs.

God clothes even the lilies with splendor. We can trust that He who created us will provide for us in this world and for forever. Jesus is indeed our eternal treasure!

 

May 15, 2019- Life Saver, Lose Your Life, Pick Up Your Cross- Luke 9:23-27, Hebrews 13:14, Galatians 2:20

Jesus carrying the Cross on Good Friday

And he (Jesus) said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.  For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself? For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.  But I tell you truly, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God.” Luke 9:23-27 (ESV)

The teaching of Jesus is amazingly counterintuitive. “Eat, drink and be merry,” the world tells us.  “If only you buy this product or do this activity or drink this brand of beer, your life will be wonderful!” Jesus says, “Deny yourself. Take up your cross. Lose your life.”  Jesus tells us exactly the opposite of what we want to hear, and instructs us to do exactly what we instinctively don’t want to do.

We want what we want when we want it. We want to pursue pleasure and avoid pain.  Nobody left to his or her own devices is into denying his or her desires and passions.  Life left to strictly human nature is all about self-preservation and self-aggrandizement.

Life as a hedonist (one who pursues pleasure) might be wonderful for a little while, at least until the money runs out, or age and disease and chronic pain take over. All the material things and all the money in the world cannot change the fact that we will age and we will die.  Even the very oldest humans after the Flood have not managed to live beyond 120 years. Modern science has not progressed human health to the point where people are consistently able to live beyond 100 years.  In the timeline of history one person’s lifespan is a rather insignificant period of time.  Nobody gets out of life alive, to quote Axl Rose.  Living for the temporary pleasures of this world is ultimately unsatisfying and unsustainable.

For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come. Hebrews 13:14 (ESV)

When we try to build a legacy in this world, we have to ask, how long do buildings, and even empires last? What are we working for?

The old Adam really wants to believe the serpent’s lie: “If you eat of the forbidden fruit, you will be as God.”  In reality it was the beginning of separation and of enmity with God.  The Fall sparked a rebellion that save for the grace and mercy of God in Christ, would land Adam and all his progeny in the fires of hell.

Jesus teaches us that our life in this world – life with its trouble and pain and loss- is fleeting and temporary. Our true life is bound up in Him. The way to this true life, eternal life, is in Christ alone, and it is found only in the cross.  He gave His Blood, shed to cover our sins. His Body was broken, given to strengthen us for our earthly sojourn.  He gives us the faith and the strength to follow Him.  We cannot follow Him in the power of our own decisions or in the strength of our own will.  We cannot carry the crosses we are given- save by His grace.

Death came to humanity in the Garden of Eden. Life was promised to humanity in the Garden of Gethsemane.  The curse of death was broken as Jesus declared from the cross, “It is finished!”

I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. – Galatians 2:20

May we always find our identity in Christ and give away our life in the way of the cross as the apostle Paul did.

May 13, 2019- Seeking Signs, The Work of Christians, and the Eternal Bread of Life- John 6:25-51

bread of life

When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you come here?”  Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves.  Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal.”   Then they said to him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.”  So they said to him, “Then what sign do you do, that we may see and believe you? What work do you perform? Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’”  Jesus then said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.”

Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe. All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.  For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me.  And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”

So the Jews grumbled about him, because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” They said, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How does he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?”  Jesus answered them, “Do not grumble among yourselves. No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.  It is written in the Prophets, ‘And they will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me— not that anyone has seen the Father except he who is from God; he has seen the Father. Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die.  I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” John 6:25-51 (ESV)

Every now and then fast food restaurants have giveaways- we have all seen the promotions where one can get a free cone at the DQ, or a free taco at Taco Bell on a certain day or with a specific coupon.  Lots of people line up for the free food- and often buy more food to go with their freebie.  Whenever people have the perception that they’re getting something for free, rest assured, such promotions draw crowds.  Giving away free stuff gets a business noticed.

Jesus drew crowds also when He fed the multitudes.  Everyone wanted to follow Jesus when free food was involved. Yet it was Jesus’ aim to provide something far better than tangible, physical, edible bread.  Jesus had come as the Bread of Life, not as a gimmick to sell stuff or to hawk His wares, but to give Himself away for the salvation of the world.

We have a tendency to look for signs- the gimmick so to speak- but Jesus teaches us that faith is a gift of God, and that the Father draws us to Him. The work of Christians, regardless of our specific vocations, is to believe God and trust in Jesus- God Who took on human flesh and lives among us.  There are no points to earn, no ladder to climb, though there will be crosses to bear.  We are called to walk by faith and not by sight.  We may not see signs.  We may only have the sign of Jonah, that Jesus was swallowed up by Death, and released from Death on the third day.  (Jonah 1:17)

He fed the multitudes with physical bread, but that sign was to point us to the reality that HE is the eternal Bread of Life, that HE is the Life.

We are given an even greater gift, a greater provision than the Israelites had as they ate manna in the desert as they wandered for forty years.  We receive both our daily bread- our physical provision along the way- and our eternal provision, Jesus, the Bread of Life from the hand of God.

Thank God that Jesus has come to put death to death.  He has risen, and He gives us His very Body and His very Blood so we who the Father draws to Him in faith may share eternal life with Him.

 

 

 

May 10, 2019- Jesus Alone, Free from Legion- Luke 8:26-39

possession

Then they sailed to the country of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee.  When Jesus had stepped out on land, there met him a man from the city who had demons. For a long time he had worn no clothes, and he had not lived in a house but among the tombs. When he saw Jesus, he cried out and fell down before him and said with a loud voice, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me.” For he had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. (For many a time it had seized him. He was kept under guard and bound with chains and shackles, but he would break the bonds and be driven by the demon into the desert.) Jesus then asked him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Legion,” for many demons had entered him. And they begged him not to command them to depart into the abyss. Now a large herd of pigs was feeding there on the hillside, and they begged him to let them enter these. So he gave them permission. Then the demons came out of the man and entered the pigs, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and drowned.

 When the herdsmen saw what had happened, they fled and told it in the city and in the country. Then people went out to see what had happened, and they came to Jesus and found the man from whom the demons had gone, sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind, and they were afraid. And those who had seen it told them how the demon-possessed man had been healed. Then all the people of the surrounding country of the Gerasenes asked him to depart from them, for they were seized with great fear. So he got into the boat and returned. The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with him, but Jesus sent him away, saying, “Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.” And he went away, proclaiming throughout the whole city how much Jesus had done for him. Luke 8:26-39 (ESV)

We don’t hear much about demon possession today, although we learn in Scripture that there are powers and principalities that work against us, as well as our own sinfulness and the age old fallen human desire to make ourselves our own god. We have a similarity with the demon possessed man- we are in bondage to sin, whether or not it is markedly visible to the world.  We are separated from God because of our sin.

The demon possessed man didn’t ask for Jesus’ help to be set free. The man was so far into bondage to the legion of demons that he couldn’t ask for help if he wanted to.  Jesus came to him.  This is how the Kingdom of God comes to us.  Jesus came to earth as a flesh and blood man to reach into the world, to reach out to us with the gifts of faith, repentance, forgiveness and redemption.

The possessed man didn’t earn or deserve to be set free of the demons. Jesus saving him from that possession had nothing to do with the man-  and everything to do with Jesus.

By His grace, Jesus sets us free from those things that would keep us from Him. He forgives our sins.  He gives us the grace to love others, to serve others, to live in a way in which we can say to others, “See what God has done!”  In Christ, our sins are forgiven- and the old Adam is sent to drown in the abyss, like the possessed horde of pigs.

It is indeed good news that Jesus comes to us in our need, in our helplessness and in our utter inability to save ourselves.  May we have faith in Christ alone, and fall upon His mercy and grace.

 

April 30, 2019- Make a Joyful Noise! Psalm 98, Matthew 18:2-4

suffer-the-children

Oh sing to the Lord a new song,
for he has done marvelous things!
His right hand and his holy arm
have worked salvation for him.

 The Lord has made known his salvation;
he has revealed his righteousness in the sight of the nations.

 He has remembered his steadfast love and faithfulness
to the house of Israel.
All the ends of the earth have seen
the salvation of our God.

 Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth;
break forth into joyous song and sing praises!
 Sing praises to the Lord with the lyre,
with the lyre and the sound of melody!
With trumpets and the sound of the horn
make a joyful noise before the King, the Lord!

 Let the sea roar, and all that fills it;
the world and those who dwell in it!
Let the rivers clap their hands;
let the hills sing for joy together
before the Lord, for he comes
to judge the earth.
He will judge the world with righteousness,
and the peoples with equity. Psalm 98 (ESV)

It’s interesting to watch children get excited over the most trivial and silly things. Looking forward to pizza night, or getting a new toy or game can cause some children to lose themselves in a joyful outburst. As adults we tend to mute our emotions to the point that our days meld into a grey blob.  Nothing much gets us excited, and life is more about avoiding pain and treading water than experiencing joy.  While we do share in the suffering of Christ, He also calls us to share in His joy, even here in the world of now, but not yet.

And calling to him (Jesus) a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 18:2-4 (ESV)

Part of the beauty of praying the Psalms is that when we proclaim the majesty and greatness of God, we are humbled by the inspired words of God. We are drawn to look up to Him as children look up to their earthly fathers.  We retrieve our sense of awe and delight in the imagery of roaring seas and rivers clapping their hands and the hills singing for joy.

In this season of Easter we see the signs of the world coming back to life after a long winter. We can hear the birds and feel the sunlight again.  We can be reassured in the Resurrection of Jesus that death doesn’t have the final say. We aren’t doomed to the curse of the Garden.  Joy is our birthright as children of God.

It isn’t easy to stay innocent and trusting God in this world. Faith itself is a gift of God, as is the ability to come to our Heavenly Father like a child.  Thankfully, in Christ we have that capacity for joy, and the ability to lift our eyes to heaven to sing and praise Him.

 

 

 

April 25, 2019 – By Faith in Jesus, We Will Live In the Heavenly City- Hebrews 11:1-16

heavenly-golden-city

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.  For by it the people of old received their commendation. By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible.

By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, through which he was commended as righteous, God commending him by accepting his gifts. And through his faith, though he died, he still speaks.  By faith Enoch was taken up so that he should not see death, and he was not found, because God had taken him. Now before he was taken he was commended as having pleased God. And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. By faith Noah, being warned by God concerning events as yet unseen, in reverent fear constructed an ark for the saving of his household. By this he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith.

By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God.  By faith Sarah herself received power to conceive, even when she was past the age, since she considered him faithful who had promised.  Therefore from one man, and him as good as dead, were born descendants as many as the stars of heaven and as many as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore.

These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth.  For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return.  But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city. Hebrews 11:1-16 (ESV)

It is telling that the author of Hebrews brings the definition of faith back to creation. At the very beginning of Scripture we are taught, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.”- Genesis 1:1

God created the universe ex nihilo- from nothing- and this is the God in whom we believe.  If creation is of God, then we are inextricably connected to Him whether we acknowledge it or not.  While God is separate from His creation, creation cannot exist apart from Him.

Our mighty creator God gives us the gift of faith- faith so that we would trust in His provision and promise. The stories of the patriarchs are given to us not to show us how great Abel or Noah were, or what fantastic people Abraham and Sarah were, but to show us how great God is. Their faith is what commended them to God rather than their own merit or good deeds.  Our merits and good deeds are nothing more than dirty rags (Isaiah 64:6) in the sight of God. By faith, we trust that we are covered by the blood of Jesus, and when God looks at us all he sees is Jesus.  Jesus has justified us, because we believe He is who He says He is, and that what He said: “It is finished,“ as He died on the Cross in our place is enough.

We are strangers and sojourners in this world, but as people baptized into Christ we are made to be the children of God’s covenant with Abraham- born descendants as many as the stars of heaven and as many as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore.

By faith we know that Jesus has made for us a lasting city. By faith we trust that the kingdom of “now but not yet” will end, and we will step into the fullness of God’s promise as citizens of the heavenly city.

 

 

April 24, 2019- Born Again to a Living Hope- 1 Peter 1:3-12

jesus is not here

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories. It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look. 1 Peter 1:3-12 (ESV)

In Christ we are born again to a living hope. One of the many amazing things about the grace of God is that all that we are and all that we have is a gift from Him. In and of ourselves we are nothing but dead in trespasses and sins, as the apostle Paul teaches us in Ephesians 2:1-3.

In the Garden of Eden our first parents discovered the sin of pride – of wanting to be God- and they learned the consequences of disobeying God. (Genesis 3)  Ever since the Fall, human beings have been mortal and doomed to suffer and to die as the consequence of this original sin.

Jesus shakes up that paradigm. If natural law were the last say, none of us could save ourselves by our own merit.  All of us earn and deserve eternal death and hell, and that is exactly what our fate would be if we were left to the consequences of our actions.

Yet God has mercy on us. Out of His desire to save us, He sent Jesus to pay the penalty for our sins. Our death sentence, our consignment to eternal punishment, was revoked at the moment when Jesus cried from the Cross- “It is finished!” (John 19:30)  Paid in full. Set free. The curse of the Garden, set over all of creation, was broken.  Jesus, the perfect Lamb of God, was given to suffer and die and take the penalty FOR US.

The apostles’ testimony was given to us so that we would know the joy of Jesus’ Resurrection from those who witnessed it first, so that we who did not see can believe. We have been given, by the gift of faith, the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look.

Salvation and life are God’s gifts to us. We add nothing to the salvation equation except for our unbelief, rebelliousness, imperfections, and of course, the dirty rags of our sins.  Just as we love our own children even though we are always cleaning up after them and providing for them, God loves us and provides for us in spite of our inability to repay Him in any way. The reality is that the faith we need to even acknowledge God is itself a gift from Him.

The Sacraments- instituted by Jesus and given as gifts to us- are for everyone. We are given baptism, in which the Word of God and the water bestow the gift of faith, the gift of being named and claimed as God’s own child, is given for all ages and stages.  The effectiveness of baptism is not reliant on a person’s ability to understand or to ask for the gift.  We are given the gift of the Lord’s Supper, the very Body and Blood of Jesus in with, over and under the elements of bread and wine. In the simple gift of bread and wine we receive a foretaste of the feast to come. We receive the very real presence of Jesus, in which we are given comfort and our faith in Him is strengthened.

Our trials today may seem overwhelming. Even though we hold each other up, because we are the hands and feet of Christ here on earth, we grow weary.  Many of us have health concerns that tax our ability to do even the most basic of tasks.  Some of us live in chronic pain and/or with debilitating diseases.  Many of us know financial poverty far better than we would like to. Others of us live with the grief of losing loved ones- spouses, parents or even children.  The trials and pains of this world are not the end of our story.  We are being tested by fire so that our faith is refined, and we are all the more willing to turn to Jesus and cling to Him, our Risen Lord.